Press release

New York Art Worlds, 1870–1890

Exhibition Dates: June 8, 2020–March 28, 2021
Exhibition Location:

The Met Fifth Avenue, Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art,
Mezzanine, Gallery 773

Opening June 8 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition New York Art Worlds, 1870–1890 explores the experience of being an artist in New York during the two decades after the Museum’s founding in 1870. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of The Met. Drawn from the Museum’s collection, a selection of some 50 works—paintings, sculpture, watercolors, illustrated books, and decorative objects including painted tiles, stained glass, and textiles—reveals the vibrant modern art world that emerged in New York in the post-Civil War years, laying the groundwork for today’s international cultural capital. These objects, made by New York–based artists or exhibited in the city, exemplify late 19th-century aesthetic innovations and trends, while also reflecting leading American artists’ roles as experimental tastemakers, organizers, exhibitors, and collaborators.

Organized thematically, the exhibition opens with works by painter John Frederick Kensett and sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward, both founders of The Met and established artists who practiced in the prevailing realist style. The four sections that follow set the Museum’s early years and its collecting of American paintings and sculpture in the broader context of New York’s rapidly burgeoning cultural and artistic sectors. “Artistic Fellowship” and “The Tile Club and Commercial Pursuits” examine the interrelated practices of younger “New Movement” artists—many trained in Europe—who came together in New York to work, exhibit, and socialize. Studio buildings and salon-style gatherings inspired not only cosmopolitan camaraderie but also exchanges of works of art. Between 1877 and 1887, members of the Tile Club—among them Edwin Austin Abbey, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens—gathered informally to paint ceramic tiles and promote artistic lifestyles. The professionalization of women’s roles in the New York art world—from students at work to observers of modern life—is represented in paintings by Louis Lang, Helena de Kay (later Gilder), and Edith Mitchill (later Prellwitz). The exhibition also explores how artists—including Cecilia Beaux, Charles Ethan Porter, and Elihu Vedder—merged artistic production with commercial endeavors in porcelain plaques, Christmas card designs, and illustrated books to reach broader audiences.

The sections “The Business of Art in New York” and “Decorative Collaborations” investigate the role of artists as tastemakers and the structures that supported and facilitated their success. In a variety of settings, artists bonded with like-minded art critics, cultivated collectors, and worked collaboratively on ambitious projects. The period also saw the rise of professional art criticism in the popular press, with writers lending their talents to promote specific artists, for instance Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer’s consequential support of Thomas Eakins and Saint-Gaudens. Similarly, the proliferation of exhibition venues that ranged from the Society of American Artists and American Watercolor Society annuals to The Met, and included commercial galleries and auction houses, afforded artists different opportunities to display and market their work. An emerging clientele for artfully planned domestic interiors led to collaborative design projects, as represented in stained glass and other work by John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany and in textiles by Candace Wheeler. 

The exhibition is organized by Sylvia Yount, the Lawrence A. Fleishman Curator in Charge of the American Wing, and Thayer Tolles, the Marica A. Vilcek Curator of American Painting and Sculpture.

Education programs will be organized to complement the exhibition. 

The exhibition will be featured on The Met website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

About The Met’s 150th Anniversary

In 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding with a dynamic range of exhibitions, programs, and public events. Highlights of the year will include the exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020, on view March 30–August 2; the opening of the newly renovated and reimagined galleries devoted to British decorative arts and design in March; the display of new gifts throughout the Museum; a three-day-long celebration in June; and a story-collecting initiative. More information is available at and in a dedicated press release


February 7, 2020

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